Raymond Arke | News Editor
A funding crisis is gripping Pennsylvania. After passing a budget in July, the state legislature has has yet to approve a plan that would bankroll the budget legislation.
The latest attempt to fund the state, which was passed by the PA House of Representatives, has the Port Authority warning of drastic consequences which would affect Pittsburgh residents and Duquesne students. The PA Senate voted on Wednesday, Sept. 20, to send the bill back to the House.
The appropriations bill is titled the “Putting People First Budget” and was created by House Republicans. The PA House Republican Caucus’ website calls the plan “fiscally responsible,” since it funds the state without raising taxes or increasing borrowing. One of the key sections of funding for their plan comes from the transfer of money from selected special funds “with excess or dormant monies,” its website read.
In a letter to PA government leaders dated Sept. 8, Leslie Richards, PA Secretary of Transportation, said that the House budget proposal would move $357 million from a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) trust fund, called the Pennsylvania Public Transit Fund, which is normally used for public transportation programs. The loss of funds would mean a cut in operating subsidies that go out to the state’s various transit authorities.
According to Jim Ritchie, a communications officer for the Port Authority, Pittsburgh’s bus system would be set to lose out.
“As approved by the House, PennDOT has informed Port Authority that it would cut about $11 million of operating funds from our budget this year, ” Ritchie said.
What effects that may cause are still up in the air.
“The Authority would have to consider some amount of service reduction, or a fare increase, or some combination of the two … We’ve not determined exactly how we would offset the loss, if approved,” Ritchie said.
A Sept. 12 press release from the Port Authority warned that the loss of funds could dramatically cut coverage with the possible “elimination of nearly half of all bus routes, weekend and evening service and substantial fare increases throughout the system,” in store.
PA State Senator Wayne Fontana (D) who represents the district where Duquesne is located, said he is opposed to the House’s funding plan.
“The spending plan as passed by the House last week is irresponsible and dangerous. Raiding funds where monies have specialized appropriations, puts many vital Commonwealth services at risk,” Fontana said.
He suggested the House consider a bipartisan plan passed by the Senate which avoids the possible cuts by raising taxes.
“Well intentioned or not, it’s way past time to stop looking at gimmicks and get serious about what we face and put our fiscal house in order. Our primary jobs as legislators is to pass a balanced budget, and the Senate did just that nearly two months ago,” he said.
Senate Republicans agreed, with Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R) and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R) rejecting the House plan in a joint statement on Sept. 20.
“Resolving the state’s fiscal issues through compromise must happen immediately. In reaching a final solution, the budget must be balanced for this year and the next,” their statement read.
Corman and Scarnati also mentioned that the Senate had passed a bipartisan plan to fund the budget back in July, that the House has rejected.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is also opposed to the House’s plan.
“This proposal is harmful to our residents and would be devastating to our strong and growing economy. More than 100,000 people rely on public transit each day to get where they need to go,” he said in a statement.
Rebecca Tarullo, a Duquesne senior psychology major, relies on the city buses to get to and from work.
“Since I work at PNC Park, a lot of the games are on weekends and the weekend games typically start and end later, so cutting weekend services would mean leaving earlier and walking,” she said.
Using the bus system also offers her security when she has to work games that run into the night.
“It’s dangerous for me as a female to walk alone that late at night,” Tarullo said.
Amber Rigot is a junior music education major at Duquesne. She also is a commuter, who uses the Port Authority public transportation to get to school and her job. Rigot is worried that the potential cuts could affect her mobility.
“If [the bus system] goes, not only will I be left without a way to get to school, but I’ll be forced to quit my job,” she said.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R) did not respond to requests for comment by press time.